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Historic Book of Lismore returning to Ireland after centuries in British hands | Books

A 15th century medieval manuscript, one of the “great books of Ireland”, returns home nearly 400 years after its siege.

The Book of Lismore, donated to University College Cork by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement, was compiled for Fínghin Mac Carthaigh, Lord of Carbery, from 1478 to 1505. It is composed of 198 large sheets of parchment that contain some of the medieval Irish literatures greatest masterpieces, including the lives of Irish saints, the only surviving Irish translation of Marco Polo’s travels, and the adventures of the hero Fionn mac Cumhaill or Finn MacCool.

The book was captured during a siege of Kilbrittain Castle in Cork in the 1640s and given to the Earl of Cork at Lismore Castle. It was walled up in the 18th century and only rediscovered during renovations in 1814. A century later it was moved to Devonshire House in London and then to Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. It has been the property of the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees, who own the land and estates of the Duchy of Devonshire since its inception in 1946.

The book of Lismore.The book of Lismore. Photo: University College Cork

Taoiseach Micheál Martin hailed the return of “one of the great books of Ireland” and praised the generosity of the Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish and his family.

“If the Duke and his predecessors had not been in England and Ireland, the Book of Lismore, like many other Gaelic manuscripts of its time, might have been lost or gone undiscovered,” said Martin.

Cavendish said the trustees had been considering ways in which The Book of Lismore could return to University College Cork since it was loaned to the institution for an exhibition in 2011. The book is donated by the Trustees “in recognition of the academic and curatorial expertise of the university and in recognition of a very long and fruitful partnership between the Cavendish family and UCC” that dates back to the university’s founding in the 1840s.

“My family and I are delighted that this has been possible and we hope it will benefit many generations of students, scholars and visitors to the university,” said Cavendish.

UCC said the texts in the manuscript, which include translations of European works, “show an Ireland deeply engaging with contemporary European culture of the time”. It is planned to exhibit the book in a public gallery.

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